Much More Than a Negation of Religion: A Qualitative Exploration of the Diversity of Non-Religious Identities in England and Wales

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    Abstract

    Census data for 2011 suggested that around 14.1 million people in England and Wales state that they have no religion and recent survey evidence suggests that the number could be even higher. Drawing on evidence from focus group discussions with people who broadly self-identify with the descriptor ‘non-religious’, this article examines the diversity of non-religious identities and the interfaces with religion and equalities law. Through analysis of the identity narratives of people who see themselves as non-religious, the findings indicate that people use various conceptualisations of non-religion, belief, and spirituality to describe their identities. Moreover, non-religious people also reported experiences of unfair treatment and discrimination due to their identities. The term ‘non-religious’ can be problematic; it can be homogenising and limit people to identifying themselves in terms of the negation of religion. The findings highlight different non-religious identities and thus bring into question the conceptions, both popular and official, of the category ‘non-religious’ and the wider discourse of non-religion. It can be questioned whether the negative label of being non-religious is fit for purpose. There is a need for a new vocabulary to articulate, describe, and understand non-religious identities and experiences.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)329-348
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Contemporary Religion
    Volume36
    Issue number2
    Early online date1 Sep 2021
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    The focus group interviews reported in this article were part of a research project that was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the Religion and Society research programme (AH/H016074/1). We would like to thank the focus group participants for contributing to this research and sharing their views and experiences.

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

    Keywords

    • Belief
    • identity
    • no religion
    • non-religious
    • religion
    • secularism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Cultural Studies
    • Religious studies
    • Philosophy

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